A new blood test based on DNA sequencing can be used to rapidly diagnose Ebola and other pathogens such as Chikungunya and hepatitis C virus.

Researchers at the University of California – San Francisco (UCSF) suggest that the rapid DNA test can be used even where lab space and a medical infrastructure are highly limited.

Using blood samples from two African patients who had acute hemorrhagic fever, scientists detected the genetic fingerprints of Ebola within just 10 minutes, with the diagnosis itself issued within five hours of opening the samples.

Most commercially available or research-based DNA diagnostic tests target specific pathogens. Charles Chiu, MD, PhD, associated professor of laboratory medicine at UCSF and his team have pioneered techniques that do not require suspected pathogens to be identified beforehand in order to detect their unique genetic signatures.

To obtain such rapid DNA test results the researchers developed new analysis and visualisation software to leverage an emerging DNA-sequencing technology known as nanopore sequencing.

Rapid DNA Test Detects Multiple Pathogens

During the same set of experiments the researchers were able to detect Chikungunya virus, from a Puerto Rican outbreak – just as quickly in a blood sample from a donor with no symptoms – but who eventually reported having fever and joint pains.

In another example of the technique’s versatility, detection of hepatitis C virus in blood from an infected patient, present at a much lower concentration than the other viruses, provided quick results for DNA testing as it took just 40 minutes from the start of sequencing.

Professor Chiu said: “This point-of-care genomic technology will be particularly attractive in the developing world, where critical resources, including reliable electric power, laboratory space, and computational server capacity, are often severely limited.”

Such advances in provided rapid DNA testing results for diagnosing Ebola brings new hope of more effectively containing the virus after its wide-spreading outbreak.